MSNBC says 'prime time lineup is solid'

chris hayes msnbc

Is a prime time shakeup coming at MSNBC?

Maybe, but the channel is pushing back against a report that Rachel Maddow is about to replace one of her proteges, Chris Hayes.

However, change is definitely afoot at the network, as demonstrated by Thursday's twin cancellations of "Ronan Farrow Daily" and "The Reid Report."

MSNBC is searching for solutions to a ratings deficit that seems to worsen with each passing month. Lately the channel has been averaging just 60,000 to 80,000 viewers ages 25 to 54 on weekdays. CNN, the parent of this web site, usually averages more than twice as many viewers in that demographic; Fox News often times averages four times as many.

So what's MSNBC going to do? Among staffers, there is rampant uncertainty.

On Friday, representatives for the channel reiterated that it will continue to "Lean Forward" -- its slogan that sums up its progressive point of view -- while trying to broaden its coverage beyond politics.

An MSNBC spokesperson refuted that the goal is to "move away from left-wing TV," a claim made by an "MSNBC source" to The Daily Beast.

That Daily Beast report also said "two well-placed sources" predicted that Maddow would take Hayes' slot, and that a search is underway for a new 9 p.m. host.

The report sent a shiver through some corners of MSNBC on Thursday night, given how close Hayes and Maddow are. The two hosts share an agent -- and a cerebral liberal sensibility.

"Contrary to the rumors from unnamed sources, we have no plans to take Chris Hayes' show off the air, or move Rachel Maddow's show," an MSNBC spokesperson said Friday. "Our prime time lineup is solid."

Staffers at the 8 p.m. show do not feel they're on solid ground, however. It is possible the show will be shifted to some other time slot.

Hayes' show, "All In," is the most recent addition to MSNBC's prime time lineup -- it was launched in the spring of 2013 after Hayes had a successful run on weekend mornings.

In the press, "All In" has been portrayed as faltering, and several staffers involved with the show, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they've felt unfairly targeted, considering the channel's across-the-board ratings struggles.

On Thursday, for instance, Chris Matthews drew 104,000 viewers ages 25 to 54 at 7 p.m., Hayes had 109,000 at 8 p.m., Maddow had 116,000 at 9 p.m., and Lawrence O'Donnell had 90,000 at 10 p.m.

Some nights are worse for Hayes; he generally loses a bit of the prior hour's audience. Then again, he's been in the job for about two years, while Matthews has been a fixture on MSNBC for well over a decade.

One MSNBC staffer who has worked with Hayes bemoaned "the 8 o'clock time slot problem -- nobody's ever been able to draw the ratings that I think [MSNBC president] Phil Griffin wants to see."

The ultimate calculation, about Hayes and about every other cable news host, is this: Does management think another host could reliably attract a bigger audience?

No more talent changes are believed to be imminent, but there will be more. Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid, two of the channel's lowest-rated hosts, will be replaced by news anchor Thomas Roberts next month, the channel confirmed on Thursday.

The replacement of two strong progressive voices for Roberts was interpreted by some as a step away from liberal politics, at least during the workday.

On the other hand, this week's appointment of Bravo TV star Tom Colicchio as MSNBC's "food correspondent" might be a signal of what's to come. The channel called it part of a "larger strategy to cover a broader set of stories that move and inspire Americans through its progressive lens."

Ultimately, MSNBC may be trying to pull off something quite tricky -- encouraging its loyal and mostly liberal fans to stick around while welcoming new viewers who aren't as fervent about politics, policy or President Obama.

Griffin said in an end-of-2014 memo that in 2015, "we're going to get on the road -- and outside of Washington -- a lot more."

"We're going to keep opening up our aperture, while investing in original reporting on the broad range of stories that move and inspire Americans," he wrote. "And we're going to use new technologies, events and creative tools to engage and mobilize our passionate audience."

MSNBC executives portrayed the Colicchio announcement as the first of several such announcements to come.

Hayes, who has declined to comment on the speculation about the fate of his show, did tweet a nod to The Daily Beast report. On Friday afternoon he wrote: "Tonight we'll probably talk about why going to war in Iraq again is a bad idea," and he added the hashtag "#leftwingTV."

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